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Harry Maguire

Leicester City to Manchester United, £80m

Harry Maguire represents an unlikely potential solution to Manchester United’s recent problems in defence. A club that had previously recruited some of Europe’s leading defenders – Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic formed one of the Premier League’s finest ever central defensive partnerships – instead targeted an individual who first established himself in League One.

It was at Sheffield United where Maguire first played regular first-team football, and it was former Manchester United captain Steve Bruce who was responsible for first taking him into the English top flight in 2014, when he spent £1.5m signing the then 21-year-old from Hull. Relegation back to the Championship was followed by an immediate promotion and further relegation – but in that time Maguire sufficiently impressed Leicester, who paid £17m to make him the focal point of their defence.

Maguire’s subsequent rise might have surprised some, but it has been built on an ability to step up to every challenge he has faced; he adapted to Hull, then to Leicester, and then most significantly for England as they reached the semi finals of the 2018 World Cup.

That United coach Mike Phelan worked with Maguire at Hull will have contributed to his move to Old Trafford. But, even if the 26-year-old will be under pressure to justify surpassing Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk as the world’s most expensive defender, he has already made a promising start.

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Tactical analysis
The 6ft 4ins Maguire is capable of being an immensely dominant central defender, largely owing to the strong frame and powerful movements that make him so impressive in the air (above). If this makes him a particular strength against direct opponents, it also makes him an asset at both attacking and defending set-pieces. He provides excellent protection for goalkeepers potentially struggling with imposing strikers – particularly under deliveries into the six-yard box.

During open play the England international increasingly remains on his feet to defend, instead of going to ground with the consistency he first showed as a professional. When blocking attempts on goal, that upright stance creates a bigger barrier, though he is still tempted to slide in on runners in behind. Maguire has the pace to match the majority of runners stride for stride and then make the crucial block, or edge them away from goal, without breaking his running pattern.

Maguire is more comfortable blocking attempts towards his right side than with his left, where he can still be vulnerable if an opponent cuts across him – something that becomes magnified by an attacker disguising a shot or turn and moving explosively, especially over a distance of 10 or more metres.

His decision-making and timing when sliding across to cover his central-defensive partner is a further strength, thanks to his ability to sense the extent of the danger and know when he can leave his direct opponent. Increasingly influential alongside a defender who has been dragged out of the back line or a loosely organised full-back, Maguire is also improving during moments of defensive transition.

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Much of his reputation rightly owes to his confidence in carrying possession into midfield (above). When a defender is so capable of doing so they make a significant contribution towards attacking build-ups, through freeing up teammates after drawing opponents; those movements draw opposing strikers or wingers and respectively create space for the deepest central midfielder or relevant full-back. In the event there is no suitable passing option, he can also continue to drive into midfield. 

Though not the most agile with the ball at his feet, Maguire uses his body well to protect possession, even under significant pressure. His drives forward usually come on his right side, limiting his angles of approach to a point and potentially making him vulnerable if pressed on to his left foot or if passing options on his right are blocked.

A lack of stability and therefore clean sheets throughout 2018/19 meant it became a priority for United to strengthen their defence, which they attempted to do by recruiting Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Maguire. A natural fit for a central-defensive role in any of Solskjaer’s back-four systems, he has demonstrated with England that he is also comfortable in a back three.

Maguire’s aerial presence has already strengthened that defence, especially against wider build-ups. It not only inhibits aggressive strikers, but can lead to counter-attacks started by his clearances; if he improves this further by guiding those clearances to teammates instead of simply with height and distance (above), he will become even more valuable. 

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James are all at their most effective when receiving facing the opposition goal. By making the right clearances and if he continues to play through balls (below), Maguire can encourage an exciting attack to play to its strengths. The effectiveness of those through balls can even succeed further if he learns to disguise his forward passing, as it will if he can become more resilient to a direct opponent’s aggressive press.

When he is starved of spaces to advance into, he can be forced to turn back instead of playing from his left (below), which can also leave his goalkeeper vulnerable to being pressed if a further attacker reacts to that turn.

At the start of a season that leads into the 2020 European Championships, there remains some uncertainty surrounding England’s first-choice central defence. If United and Solskjaer can improve their most expensive summer signing, Maguire may prove even more influential for Gareth Southgate than he was at the 2018 World Cup.

Harry Maguire

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